Flu calls up at VNA

Seasonal flu vaccine availability limited

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— There have "definitely" been more people calling and booking appointments for flu this year than last, said Gisela Garrison, Northwest Colorado Community Health Center director.

Just as there are more people enrolling in flu vaccine clinics, she added.

However, Garrison said she is not convinced the increase of flu calls is because there are more people who have the virus. It may be with all the buzz about swine flu, officially known as H1N1, that people are being more proactive in calling the doctor, she said.

"Our triage nurse, at least every second call has been for flu," Garrison said, referring to a service where a registered nurse gives medical advice over the phone when someone doesn't have a set appointment.

She added that people shouldn't be too afraid of swine flu, which is not more deadly than regular strains.

"There is a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear in the community, but at this time," Garrison said, and then knocked on her wooden desk before continuing, "the H1N1 epidemic is not different from the seasonal flu in a normal year."

While there are many people concerned about flu season, there is a shortage of seasonal flu vaccines because pharmaceutical companies are spending most of their resources producing swine flu vaccines.

Because of the shortage, VNA officials released a statement Monday that the organization will no longer provide seasonal flu vaccines to the general public, except to walk-in patients 18 and younger.

VNA officials also will not be able to take business vouchers for those who signed up in September, according to the release.

The VNA news release asks adults who have not received a vaccination to get one from a local pharmacy, such as Walgreens, City Market and Safeway, or to contact their health care provider.

"We regret any inconvenience this unforeseen shortage has caused to our adult population," said Janice Poirot, VNA immunization program coordinator. "But, we remain committed to vaccinating as many children as we can with our supply of Vaccines for Children."

The swine flu vaccine is not available to the general public, though it will be later this fall.

Suzi Mariano, Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association public information coordinator, said her organization does not know when and where swine flu vaccines will be available for general use, but she said they are coming.

The first wave of vaccines will be available to certain public officials, such as health care providers who come in close contact with flu viruses throughout the year, particularly during fall flu season.

Although many people have reported being sick, there have been no confirmed swine flu cases in Moffat County.

However, Garrison said it is likely several people have the virus.

For one, this flu season started earlier than the normal November peak, she said. For another, many flu patients test positive for the type A flu strain, which includes swine flu and other viral mutations.

However, there's not much point in testing for swine flu, Garrison added.

"We don't differentiate between H1N1 and seasonal flu because you treat them the same," she said. "You couldn't through a medical examination tell if it was swine flu. Only through very expensive testing can you tell."

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